As you might imagine, I have been thinking lately about the meaning of Gnostic(ism). I remain unconvinced by arguments of difference and polemics which are serving scholars in the erasure the Gnostic(ism) from western history, as if Gnostic(ism) has not made an enormous contribution to our culture and society (and I am arguing, still does). Scholarship today, however unintentional, is accomplishing what the church fathers started. The complete eradication of Gnostic(ism).
Gnostics were not just different Christians in a laundry list of assorted Christianities. And just because Christianity was diverse in the beginning does not mean that there were not normative elements within Christianity from the beginning. There were boundaries in which the difference operated. When a group transgressed these boundaries, the limits were exposed and the creeds were formulated. Then polemics flashed back and forth, igniting a battle and further entrenching the boundaries and reconfigurating categories. The Gnostics found themselves in hostile territory outside the wall, no longer welcome in the synagogues and churches where they had once worshiped.
It is a total misrepresentation of history to say that Gnosticism or Gnostic Religion did not exist. It most certainly did, and I might add, it did so early on. By the early third century, Manichaeism was born and quickly spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific, becoming the first world religion. Who gets taught that in World Religions courses? The Mandaeans (=The Knowers) also were around in the third century, and have their roots in the first century. Mandaeism still exists as a Gnostic religion today. Both of these Gnostic religions, while combining elements from other religions were distinctly their own independent religions. They were neither Jewish, nor Christian, nor Buddhist. They were Gnostic.
As for the first and second centuries, well this is my goal. To try to make sense of how Gnostic spirituality emerged as a new religiosity and interacted with religions and philosophies that were contemporaneous to it, and also struggling to emerge themselves. Somehow there emerged three discrete religions by the third century: Judaism, Christianity, and Gnosticism. It is telling this story that will capture my attention in the first half of my book
The Gnostic New Age
Image: Rock crystal seal engraved with three profile busts of Mani and two priests; inscription reads: “Mani, the Apostle of Jesus Christ”. Bibliothèque nationale de France, INT 1384BIS. Via